According to multiple research studies, owning and caring for a pet is good for your health. Pet care has been linked to reduced stress and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and lower risk of heart disease.
For example, in a study at the State University of New York at Buffalo, women asked to solve a math equation with their dogs nearby experienced less stress than women who worked near another human.
It’s thought that pet ownership and care decreases the levels of cortisol (a stress hormone that can damage your body) that is produced in your blood, while at the same time lifting levels of dopamine, the chemical that creates feelings of happiness. This means that in addition to improving health, pets also can improve happiness. Petting a dog or cat can also help your immune system by raising levels of immune system antibody immunoglobulin.
By the way, petting your animal companion is also good for the pet, calming Fido’s anxiety and lowering his blood pressure.
People that walk with their pets stay in better physical condition, keep their weight down, and increase stamina. One study found that dog walkers at a shelter stayed in better shape than non walkers, and that the dogs that were walked were more likely to be adopted.
A University of California study showed cats purr at a frequency between 25 and 150 hertz. This is the same range of frequencies have been associated with increased bone density and faster healing.
A study at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine found that owning a pet increases the levels oxytocin in the human body. Oxytocin has some powerful effects for us in the body’s ability to be in a state of readiness to heal and to grow new cells, so it puts us in a position to stay healthier and heal faster.
It’s not just small animals that can help us heal, by the way. Horses have become popular therapists for people with disabilities. Horses can help people with limited mobility be more active and experience the outdoors beyond where a vehicle can take them, boosting happiness. Studies have linked horse riding for the disabled with increased core strength and improved muscle function.
Need more evidence? In Japan, a study found pet owners made 30 percent fewer visits to doctors. In Australia, a study of 6,000 people showed that owners of dogs and other pets had lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart attack risk compared with people who don’t have pets.
Many believe that pet ownership boost overall help through the emotional experience of the unconditional love that pets give their human companions. They can help homebound people feel less isolated and deliver a sense of purpose. Pet therapy has also been shown to alleviate, and in some cases prevent, post-traumatic stress disorder.
Of course, pets can also help younger children learn about responsibility and care for others, or not, as the case may be. Many adults end up doing the heavy lifting of pet ownership after the honeymoon of the puppy or kitty holiday gift has faded. Experts recommend that parents think twice before giving-in to the impulse and starting small with easy to care for animals before moving on to larger and more active pets.